The Best Female Film Performances of 2010

The ladies really lit up the big screen, delivering the kind of brilliant acting work that makes picking a mere 20 that much more difficult, let alone unearthing a clear number one.

Film: Never Let Me Go

Director: Mark Romanek

Cast: Carey Mulligan, Keira Knightley, Andrew Garfield, Sally Hawkins, Charlotte Rampling, Nathalie Richard


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List number: 20

Display Width: 200Keira Knightley
Never Let Me Go

Growing up, and even through college, who among us didn’t know Ruth (Keira Knightley), the competitive, somewhat manipulative, seemingly self-important classmate who saw everything you wanted and took it, despite being a close friend? Taking that societal standard, Knightley’s Ruth is betrayed to the viewer when her back is turned to Tommy (Andrew Garfield) and Kathy (Carey Mulligan), a luxury not afforded to real-life social interaction. Catty, angry and more than a little bipolar, her final act of love to both Tommy and Ruth puts her childhood actions into a perspective so rarely afforded to us in the real world, and it’s all the more beautiful for it. Knightley’s final admission to Mulligan, with her false hardness crumbling away with each spoken word, her weak, frail body almost ready to die at that moment not out of illness but out of embarrassment, is worth the price of admission alone. Kevin Brettauer


Film: Easy A

Director: Will Gluck

Cast: Emma Stone, Penn Badgley, Amanda Bynes, Thomas Haden Church, Patricia Clarkson, Cam Gigandet, Lisa Kudrow


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List number: 19

Display Width: 200Emma Stone
Easy A

Emma Stone is in every scene of Easy A and also serves as the movie's voiceover narrator. So it's a good thing that she's as great as she is, otherwise Easy A would be another forgettable teen comedy. Instead, this story of a high school nobody who lies about having sex and ends up as the most notorious girl in school may be the funniest high school comedy since Mean Girls. Olive's webcam-based voiceovers set up the movie's "chapters" with the perfect amount of snark and/or chagrin as she tells the story of how she gained such a bad reputation. Stone makes it easy to believe how Olive could let herself slide into her new persona. Before she was nothing, now she gets all sorts of attention (and gift cards) and all she has to do is let boys at school say they did things with her. Of course it all spins wildly out of control and has far-reaching consequences, but Stone's light touch keeps Easy A from getting too serious near the end. Chris Conaton


Film: Made in Dagenham

Director: Nigel Cole

Cast: Sally Hawkins, Miranda Richardson, Rosamund Pike, Jaime Winstone, Bob Hoskins, Richard Schiff, John Sessions


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List number: 18

Display Width: 200Sally Hawkins
Made in Dagenham

As Rita O’Grady, the real-life modern-day suffragette who rallied the female workers of the Ford auto plant in Dagenham, England during the late 1960s, Sally Hawkins does work that’s so sublime it’s almost beneath the radar. Just as in Happy-Go-Lucky, where she had to do little but turn the full-wattage smile of her personality onto Mike Leigh’s camera and let it shine, here Hawkins presents a portrait of a working-class woman up against a high, sturdy wall of corporatized sexism who doesn’t realize how much of a leader she has become until she looks around and sees just how alone she is. Nigel Cole’s film itself is no masterpiece, a serviceable piece of pop history, but Hawkins brings a determined, chin-up heroism to the role that does the character proud. You would want her at your side while working the picket line. Chris Barsanti


Film: Black Swan

Director: Darren Aronofsky

Cast: Natalie Portman, Vincent Cassel, Mila Kunis, Barbara Hershey, Winona Ryder


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List number: 17

Display Width: 200Mila Kunis
Black Swan

As the super sexed up Ego to Natalie Portman's premeasured Id, this stunningly beautiful Hollywood honey could easily be dismissed. Hers is the flashier, more flamboyant march in Darren Aronofsky's dance with genre jerryrigging. She's a minor villain, a less than formidable foe, and one of the most earnest enemies ever. We're never quite sure if we're supposed to hiss poor Lily or hope she overcomes chief rival Nina's nut-burger jealousy to finally take control. As a catalyst for greater inner understanding, for shedding the demons than a domineering mother has cemented in place, she definitely has her moments. Of course, she could just be a figment of a frail ballerina's inner struggles. That's what makes Black Swan, and Kunis in particular, so captivating. Bill Gibron


Film: The Fighter

Director: David O. Russell

Cast: Mark Wahlberg, Christian Bale, Amy Adams, Melissa Leo, Jack McGee, Frank Renzulli


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List number: 16

Display Width: 200Amy Adams
The Fighter

Amy Adams garnered her first Oscar nomination for playing an almost unbearably sweet mom-to-be (Junebug). Her second came for playing an unbearably naive nun (Doubt). In between, she was a live-action Disney princess (Enchanted). Now, in David O. Russell’s The Fighter, she’s trying to venture into dark territory where past cutie-pies couldn’t cut it (I’m looking at you, Meg Ryan). From her first shot onscreen, wearing the shortest of shorts and cracking wise at anyone who looks too closely at them, she glues us to our seats as Mark Wahlberg’s hard-nosed girlfriend, Charlene Fleming. She has to stand toe-to-toe with more than a professional boxer, though. Charlene trades blows with his overly controlling family, including several foul-mouthed sisters, an abrasive mother, and a drug-addicted brother. And that’s just the character. Adams shares scenes with Oscar favorites Christian Bale and Melissa Leo, talents great enough to continuously dominate the screen. Adams matches them. Who would’ve guessed? Ben Travers

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